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How To Establish a Drug and Alcohol Testing Program

Author: David Galt

A majority of people who abuse alcohol or use illegal drugs nationwide are employed, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA. Therefore, the reality is that many employers will, at some point, have on staff one or more individuals who abuse drugs or alcohol during their time of employment.

Employers establish drug and alcohol testing programs for a number of reasons, depending on the needs of the organization. Leading reasons employers may test are to:

  • Comply with federal, state, and local regulations, contractual requirements or collective bargaining agreements;
  • Prevent workplace injuries, damage to property and equipment and productivity loss;
  • Respond to incidents that cause injuries and damage that may be related to drug and alcohol abuse;
  • Reduce the risk of liability issues and lawsuits that arise from workplace incidents and accidents related to drug and alcohol abuse;
  • Benefit from insurance discounts and other incentives for a drug-free workplace;
  • Prevent hiring workers who actively use illegal drugs; and
  • Promote worker well-being through drug and alcohol abuse intervention and rehabilitation programs.

For example, certain employers with those in safety-sensitive positions must establish drug and alcohol testing programs for those workers and job applicants.

This How To incorporates the specimen collection and testing procedures of the SAMHSA Mandatory Guidelines of Federal Workplace Drug Testing and the written policy elements of the SAMHSA Model Plan for a Comprehensive Drug-Free Workplace Program. Several states have adopted their own workplace drug and alcohol testing statutes modeled on the SAMHSA guidelines so it may make compliance with state requirements easier.

Note that the term illegal drug used below means the unlawful use, possession, or distribution of drugs regulated under the federal Controlled Substances Act (Act) and does not include the authorized use of a drug taken under supervision by a licensed health care professional or other uses authorized under the Act.

Controlled substances include drugs listed in Schedule I of the Act, specifically tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, marijuana), phencyclidine (PCP), the opioid heroin, cocaine, and amphetamines, and the unlawful and unauthorized use of drugs listed in Schedule II through V of the Act such as prescription drugs. The terms illegal drug and illicit drug in this guide have the same meaning. Unlawful and unauthorized use includes the use of another person's prescription. Prescription drugs include other opioids/opiates, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, depressants, and stimulants.